The Tell by Hester Kaplan

The Tell by Hester Kaplan unfolds like a stop-motion movie, one frame at a time, and in that movie there are flashes of the past.  Owen Brewer’s attention is easily swayed from one subject and one moment to another, breathing in both the past and present of his life, while at the same time observing the behaviors and ticks of others.  His marriage to Mira Thrasher is modern and telling, especially in how they introduce themselves to the new neighbor and former actor Wilton Deere.  Their marriage does not seem to be on solid ground, just from the way Owen watches the interaction of his wife and Wilton and thinks about reclaiming her in the most instinctual way.  Owen is tough to take and analyzes a great many things much more than other people would, while Mira is more a take-it-as-is girl and enjoys the moments, while not watching for the sky to fall.  Meanwhile, Wilton is trying to reconnect with his daughter, but in the process clings to this married couple next door because he longs to be loved and hated.

“Owen leaned into the sink and gulped water, leady and lethal, from the tap. Then some movement of white, gone before he could fully detect or confirm it, drew his eye past the unfurling pleasure of the lilacs to the empty house next door. Its windows were violet mirrors. In the year since the place had been on the market, Owen had sometimes used the house to animate wisps of his imagination they way people used empty battlefields. Where they saw the fuming charge across the hard-packed earth, the clash, the fallen in the grass, the victorious mob shaded by incoming clouds, he pictured his future children on the oak stairs, bodies passing in front of doorways, and the motion of family life he hoped to have here in this house, someday, with Mira.” (page 3 ARC)

Kaplan’s novel is psychologically complex.  Mira is an artist, struggling to keep her studio open and helping give direction to the elderly, young, and even homeless.  At the same time, she is hardly home when she is with Owen, and most nights, she’s off at the casino with Wilton, though she claims she does not have a gambling problem.  Kaplan explores the breakdown of trust between a husband and wife, the rebuilding of faith between an estranged daughter and father, and the power of addiction and obsession.  Each person has a “tell” — which in gambling is a change in a player’s behavior or demeanor that can give clues to other players about the truth of their hand — and in this case, Owen is trying to discern Mira’s tell, while navigating a new and untested friendship with a man he presumes is trying to get a little closer to his wife.  With Wilton, the task of determining the tell is more difficult as Owen cannot determine if he is telling the truth, acting, or a combination of both, though Owen in many cases errs on the side of Wilton telling lies.

“It was like standing still while a very fast train blew by you and lifted your hair.  What remained was what had been forgotten or abandoned:  a towel in the bushes, a single sneaker, a cat, a brightly colored plastic ring still drifting on the pond.”  (Page 100 ARC)

Kaplan’s novel unfolds with careful precision as she delves deeper into the spiraling vortex of Owen’s marriage with Mira, and his obsession with her family’s hording and her secret trips to the casino.  Each is scared to be alone, but not scared enough to stop their behavior from ruining everything.  Kaplan’s The Tell is dark and woeful, her characters are swimming in a dark pool and clinging to any hope they see, no matter how fleeting or false it may be.

About the Author:

Hester Kaplan is the author of The Edge of Marriage, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and Kinship Theory, a novel. Her short stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories series. She teaches in Lesley University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing and lives in Rhode Island.

Find out more about Hester at her website. You can also follow her on Facebook and Pinterest.

tlc tour host This is my 2nd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Mailbox Monday #207

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Suko’s Notebook.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received from Anna at Diary of an Eccentric and her family over the holidays:

 1.  The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit partying, and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch tells the story of four Londoners-three women and a young man with a past-whose lives, and those of their friends and lovers, connect in tragedy, stunning surprise and exquisite turns, only to change irreversibly in the shadow of a grand historical event.

2.  The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

It’s the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlor maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford’s young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely friendship that will transform Tyneford-and Elise-forever.

3.  Red Army Red by Jehanne Dubrow

Displaying a sure sense of craft and a sharp facility for linking personal experience to the public realms of history and politics, Jehanne Dubrow’s Red Army Red chronicles the coming of age of a child of American diplomats in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. In the last moments of the Cold War, Poland—the setting for many of the poems—lurches fitfully from a society characterized by hardship and deprivation toward a free-market economy. The contradictions and turmoil generated by this transition are the context in which an adolescent girl awakens to her sexuality. With wit and subtlety, Dubrow makes apparent the parallels between the body and the body politic, between the fulfillment of individual and collective desires.

Here’s one other book I received to share with Wiggles from a family friend:

4. The Tall Book of Fairy Tales by Eleanor Graham Vance and William Sharp

This illustrated collection of classic fairy tales was first published in 1947. This edition was first issued in 1975, and preserves all the delightful illustrations of the original. The stories in this collection are: Snow White and Rose Red, Rumpelstiltskin, Tom Thumb, The Golden Goose, The Sleeping Beauty, The Bremen Town Musicians, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Puss in Boots, The Brave Little Tailor, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Jack and the Beanstalk, Beauty and the Beast, The Golden Touch, and The Shoemaker and the Elves.

Here’s What I received for review:

5. The Tell by Hester Kaplan for a TLC Book Tour in mid-January 2013.

Mira and Owen’s marriage is less stable than they know when Wilton Deere, an aging, no longer famous TV star moves in to the grand house next door. With plenty of money and plenty of time to kill, Wilton is charming but ruthless as he inserts himself into the couple’s life in a quest for distraction, friendship—and most urgently—a connection with Anya, the daughter he abandoned years earlier. Facing stresses at home and work, Mira begins to accompany Wilton to a casino and is drawn to the slot machines. Escapism soon turns to full-on addiction and a growing tangle of lies and shame that threatens her fraying marriage and home. Betrayed and confused, Owen turns to the mysterious Anya, who is testing her own ability to trust her father after many years apart.

6. Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick from Algonquin, unexpectedly.

It is the summer of 1948 when a handsome, charismatic stranger, Charlie Beale, recently back from the war in Europe, shows up in the town of Brownsburg, a sleepy village nestled in the valley of Virginia. All he has with him are two suitcases: One contains his few possessions, including a fine set of butcher knives; the other is full of money. A lot of money. Finding work at the local butcher shop, Charlie gradually meets all the townsfolk, including Boaty Glass, Brownsburg’s wealthiest citizen, and most significantly, Boaty’s beautiful teenage bride, Sylvan.

7. The Round House by Louisa Erdrich, which is the National Book Award Winner.

One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

What did you receive?